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Working with Words: Jonathan Green

Read Monday, 30 Nov 2015

As a journalist, Jonathan Green has worked at Crikey, the Canberra Times, the Melbourne Herald, the Herald Sun, the Sunday Herald, the Age and the Drum. Right now, he’s the host of Sunday Extra on Radio National and the newly appointed editor of Meanjin. Jonathan spoke with us about deadlines, adverbs and Bond books.

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What was the first piece of writing you had published? 

I’m ashamed to admit it was probably after I’d been employed as a cadet journalist at the Canberra Times in the late 1970s. Most likely it was a weather story. I tried twice for a cadetship. After the first interview the editor suggested I should do my best to be published wherever I could. I never did.

What’s the best part of your job?

I work at a few different things, and in different media. But I guess my ‘job’ at the end of the day, whether it be on radio or in print, is to write. I get an almost unhealthy pleasure from a well-turned, rhythmic and meaningful phrase.

What’s the worst part of your job?

An impending deadline: knowing that there are things to do as yet undone. Also grant applications.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Oh, easily this Q&A. 

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Something I read that Helen Garner said: go easy on the adverbs.

I get an almost unhealthy pleasure from a well-turned, rhythmic and meaningful phrase.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

Andrew Bolt thinks I’m a pompous, prolix windbag. Actually, that’s not surprising at all. It’s always weird to read about yourself. And it’s rarely, if ever, complimentary. I never hear what people are saying about me. The conversation usually sinks into whispers as I approach.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I have absolutely no idea.

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

The writing can be taught. The creative … I’m not so sure.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?


Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?

Both … depending on availabilities really. I don’t much like reading on a device.

If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why? 

Bristow [from the Frank Dickens daily comic strip]. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of the great tea trolley disaster of 1967.

What books have had the most significant impact on your life or work?

Goodness. If lifelong habitual re-reading counts for anything it’s either the Horatio Hornblower or the James Bond books.

The first edition of Meanjin edited by Jonathan Green is published on December 4.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.